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Wednesday, April 7, 1999     (512) 463-0300

AUSTIN - Today Senate committee action focused on improving public education. Fast growing school districts, property tax relief and teacher pay dominated the discussion of 19 bills concerning those and other issues introduced in the Education Committee.

Committee Chair Teel Bivins of Amarillo sponsors the school finance package-- the Committee Substitute for Senate Bill (CSSB) 4. The bill would dedicate two and one half billion dollars of new money to the public education system, including a $2000 benefits increase for teachers and a property tax cut. In the committee hearing Bivins said, "Senate Bill 4 establishes I think beyond any doubt that education is the number one priority of this legislative session."

Dallas Senator David Cain said the bill provides a good framework but disagreed on the details, saying that for most Texans, the property tax cut will barely buy a fast food lunch, "The property tax cut being discussed this session would amount to about $5 a month for the average Texas homeowner. That's a Big Mac, fries and a coke with a little change." Cain proposed an amendment that would double the teacher pay raise to $4000 and increase resources for at risk students.

Other legislation would help booming school districts that are struggling to provide the services and facilities necessary to handle the influx of students. But Cain says the problem is bigger than that- as student enrollment rises in Texas, the number of teachers is falling. Some senators say the solution to the teacher shortage in Texas is easy--pay them more. But how much and how to do it is a major problem with most school finance issues as Bivins stated in committee, "The debate that we're going to have is how are we going to put those pieces together to make the final mosaic, to make that puzzle come out that reflects the interests of members we've heard here today."

In Senate floor action today, senators looked toward the Rio Grande River. Under legislation passed today communities that depend on the river for their water supply would know how reliable that source is for the future. The Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 76 requiring the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC) to develop a water supply model for the Rio Grande.

Senator Carlos F. Truan of Corpus Christi sponsored the bill, "Without a model for the Rio Grande, Texas is at the mercy of the upstream users on the Rio Grande. Without a model we cannot know the consequences of their actions, we cannot plan a strategy, we cannot protect our interests."

The Senate will reconvene tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.

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